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FARMINGTON — A committee of the Navajo Nation Council has approved a bill that allows two non-tribal companies to lease farm land managed by the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry.

On Tuesday, the Resources and Development Committee voted 3-1 in favor of authorizing a lease between the tribe and Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers Inc. and its sister company, Upland Desert Popcorn LLC, to use 5,500 acres of land to grow pumpkins and popping corn.

The committee's decision came after they tabled the legislation on Feb. 14 and granted time for the involved parties to negotiate the terms of the agreement and to address other issues raised by the proposal.

"We're thankful for the support we got," Pumpkin Patch co-owner John Hamby said adding several chapters issued resolutions that supported keeping both companies operating on NAPI land.

For more than 20 years, NAPI leased land to Pumpkin Patch and the most recent contract ended last December amidst allegations the company did not pay bills and was not complying with tribal law. Pumpkin Patch disputed the tribal enterprise's claims.

MORE ABOUT THE DISPUTE:

NAPI files lawsuit against Pumpkin Patch

Bill proposes lease between tribe, Pumpkin Patch

NAPI CEO Wilton Charley said the tribal enterprise will take acres it set aside for bean and corn production to give to Pumpkin Patch and Upland Desert Popcorn, and NAPI will include the companies when planning its annual crop rotations.

Charley reiterated the lease is between the tribe and the two companies.

He added that the lease was drafted between the two entities because the NAPI board of directors does not have the authority to waive tribal law when it comes to addressing certain requirements outlined in the bill, including conducting business with companies not registered with the tribe's business regulatory department.

"NAPI did not give their support to waive the non-compliance. All NAPI did is give their input to the structure and terms of the legislation," Charley said.

Hamby said Pumpkin Patch is working to resolve the non-compliance issue and remains "excited" to move forward with NAPI.

Mihio Manus, spokesman for Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, said the lease will be submitted to the president's office and Begaye has up to 10 days to review it and decide whether to sign it.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636

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